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View Full Version : Generalizations on voicing of different brands of tenors?



ScottTL
09-30-2015, 07:15 AM
I'm coming from a acoustic guitar background so bear with me...
And of course I realize these are broad generalizations: try before you buy, variability in factory production vs small house and single luthier, etc.
So....
Although there are generalizations about how top woods and back/sides, neck, finger board & nut material and strings all affect the sound of an acoustic instrument- it's (mainly) accepted that in acoustic guitars a manufacturer or single luthier production will have a particular "voice" that is only modified by the above. (No flames please) ;)

Martins are usually described as more traditionally voiced on one end of the spectrum: (emphasis on fundamentals, rich, woody, etc.) to Taylors described as a more modern sound on the other end: (emphasis on overtones, richness in harmonics, etc.)

So my question for those of you who have been playing and comparing different brands of ukuleles, tenors in particular, is does this hold true for ukes? And if so, can you characterize?

Tootler
09-30-2015, 07:21 AM
Brukos regardless of size or wood all have a bright sound.

Uke Republic
09-30-2015, 08:25 AM
I'm coming from a acoustic guitar background so bear with me...
And of course I realize these are broad generalizations: try before you buy, variability in factory production vs small house and single luthier, etc.
So....
Although there are generalizations about how top woods and back/sides, neck, finger board & nut material and strings all affect the sound of an acoustic instrument- it's (mainly) accepted that in acoustic guitars a manufacturer or single luthier production will have a particular "voice" that is only modified by the above. (No flames please) ;)

Martins are usually described as more traditionally voiced on one end of the spectrum: (emphasis on fundamentals, rich, woody, etc.) to Taylors described as a more modern sound on the other end: (emphasis on overtones, richness in harmonics, etc.)

So my question for those of you who have been playing and comparing different brands of ukuleles, tenors in particular, is does this hold true for ukes? And if so, can you characterize?

Hi Scott,
Excellent topic.There is something to that but of course with so much variety in tonewoods and sizes that there is plenty of variety in brand or maker.
Some makers use different bracing, larger or smaller lower bouts etc. even within the same brand too. For example Ohana makes a very traditional soprano shape based off Martin's style 0 (sk-38) but they also make a soprano with a larger lower bout that produces a bit more bass (sk-50wg). The sk-38 has ebony nut and saddle as opposed to bone creating another tonal factor.

k0k0peli
09-30-2015, 09:07 AM
I am a long-time guitarist, a not-quite-so-long mandolinist, and am fairly new to 'ukes. I cannot comment on specific brands. But IMHO stringing and tuning have a greater effect on an 'uke's voice than on an acoustic guitar, especially a steel-stringer. I think that is because 'ukes have a wider range of string materials available, from fishing line to engineered composites to plain gut, and because 'ukes are strung and tuned in many traditional ways.

Guitars are typically tuned linearly, whether in concert tuning or some open of modal variants. 'Ukes can be linear also, typically GCEa, but are traditionally tuned re-entrant. Aha, there's more than one way to skin that cat!

Current re-entrant standard in much of the world is gCEa; old standard was the brighter aDF#b; some like a mellower fA#Dg. Some (like me) like the GceA variant of the Venezuelan cuatro's 500-year-old Adf#B tuning. There's also GcEa which I haven't tried but seems intriguing. Notice that ALL these have the same interval pattern (GCEA) as a guitar (DGBE). But those octave variants give different voices -- and playing challenges!

'Uke too treble-y? Detune a whole step. 'Uke too dark? Brighten it by tuning up. Don't like the sound? Try some very different strings. We can greatly change an 'uke's voice without even leaving the GCEA world. I won't go into slack-key and other open and modal tunings here.

Some makers produce tenors in 4-, 5-, 6-, and/or 8-string versions. A 5-string may have the top course doubled in unison or (more often) the bottom course in octaves. A 6-string typically has the 1st and 3rd courses in octaves -- play bass lines on the top string! An 8-string is usually top course in unison, bottom courses in octaves. If these variants are built into basically the same platform, I would expect the voices to vary.

Slightly restringing my 6-string tenor from g-cC-E-aA to G-cC-E-Aa turned it into a rather darker instrument.

Other more experienced 'ukesters here will tell you of specific brands' characteristic sounds. IMHO those sounds are baselines from which we may deviate as we wish. That's part of the fun.

bborzell
09-30-2015, 03:36 PM
One of the risky things about buying a uke that you have not played is that it might end up sounding like one or more of the ukes you already own (assuming the same strings).

How this relates to the original question is the fact that tone in a uke will decay faster than tone from a larger body instrument. So one argument is that the shorter duration of the tone gives less time for the player to perceive tonal differences. Obviously, different manufacturers manage to build instruments that have their rather unique sounds, but it is not unusual to hear recordings of several instruments with the same music and same strings and the following comments will predominantly center on the similarities rather than the differences. The obvious exception is that some ukes (with all other factors being equal) are louder than others. And, sometimes that volume difference comes through as a fuller sound.

My first uke was an all acacia Pono with a cutaway. I bought it after playing three different solid wood tenors in a store. It became my standard for tone. It has good projection and the tone is warm. The next one I bought was a Mike Pereria tenor with mango sides and back and a cedar top. I didn't have the Pono with me when I tried out the MP, but my memory suggested to me that the MP was brighter and with more focused clarity.

As it turned out, when I rigged both with the same FC strings, I was initially taken but the similarity in sound. Where I had thought that the MP was simply going to be both brighter and with more detail, the side by side comparison that lasted several sessions revealed more similiarities than differences.

A year later, things changed pretty dramatically. The Pono still sounds warm with good projection and good clarity while the MP is now everything I originally thought it would be. The cedar top has opened up and the result is a very nice blend of low end (all my tenors have low G strings) and detail in the highs. And, the volume is now beyond that attainable from the acacia Pono while playing with the same technique and force.

I recently bought another tenor while in Paris. It is a Maurice Dupont D hole with koa back and sides and a spruce top. The body is larger than either of my other tenors and the hole is larger. The Dupont is loud, bright and deep.

So, I guess what I am getting at is that, while many ukes have similar tonal characteristics, design differences and the use of tops that have inherently different potential for warmth, brightness and volume will result in a fair range of options if you are looking for a particular sound or playing style.

My Pono is my choice for strumming and chording while the MP is great for detailed finger picking. And, the Dupont follows the MP with fine detail and a bit more bottom end and volume.

ScottTL
09-30-2015, 03:41 PM
Hi Scott,
Excellent topic.There is something to that but of course with so much variety in tonewoods and sizes that there is plenty of variety in brand or maker.
Some makers use different bracing, larger or smaller lower bouts etc. even within the same brand too. For example Ohana makes a very traditional soprano shape based off Martin's style 0 (sk-38) but they also make a soprano with a larger lower bout that produces a bit more bass (sk-50wg). The sk-38 has ebony nut and saddle as opposed to bone creating another tonal factor.

Thanks Mike, great info! I hadn't really considered that the bracing patterns would be different for the same size, same manufacturer. I assumed they would evolve over time and then be applied across the line. I wonder if this is more the case with the bigger producers? More to ponder.

Doc_J
09-30-2015, 03:51 PM
While it is sometime hard to verbalize the sound we hear, but each uke builder has a unique sound IMHO. This assumes they are building and voicing as they normally do. So, I'd answer your question Yes.

Rather than describe every different uke folks have played, can you tell us what sound characteristics you are looking to find?

ScottTL
09-30-2015, 03:54 PM
Another good insight. If only I lived in Hawaii... bborzell, did you feel (hear) the same opening up with the acacia topped Pono?

ScottTL
09-30-2015, 04:04 PM
Doc_J...In many ways the question is slightly academic. I like the sound of my Pono cedar topped ebony and I'm still experimenting with different strings, and of course- I have lust in my heart (thanks JC) for other ukes! But in listening to various recordings, going to HMS to listen to different manufactures as well as wood combinations, I started to hear similarities in brands.
So I wasn't really looking for descriptions on every different uke, rather for more experienced players to reflect on house sounds.
I assumed the general answer to my question was yes- but as with the example I provided on guitars, I was looking for responses like Geoffs. xxx tends to be darker, or xxx tends to have a more nasal quality, etc. with any additional elaboration the member felt like adding. But it may be that the variables are too great to categorize like this??

Doc_J
09-30-2015, 04:27 PM
To help narrow the field a bit, are you interested in linear or reentrant tuning comparisons?

bborzell
09-30-2015, 04:42 PM
Another good insight. If only I lived in Hawaii... bborzell, did you feel (hear) the same opening up with the acacia topped Pono?

No, I did not and that has not surprised me. My experience suggests to me that opening up of wood grains happens more frequently with softer woods like high grade spruce, cedar or redwood used in tops. The Pono has been remarkable consistent in tone from the first day which I see as one of its qualities.